Food52 Site Updates

Constructive Community

By • October 21, 2011 • 50 Comments

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Amanda and Merrill

- Amanda

Community is a word that gets tossed around a lot online. Everyone wants to be part of an Internet community: it's reassuring to feel connected to a human group in a vast digital space. Though community, like style, isn’t something you can fabricate, many sites try to gin it up. The most glaring indicator of such astroturfing is a “community” button in the main navigation, because community should be ubiquitous, not relegated to its own pen. "Community managers” are another red flag: it means the administrators view community as something that needs to be managed from on high -- what if our users don’t represent our brand? -- rather than something that they, too, participate in.

When we launched FOOD52, we weren't trying to create a community. We wanted to build a business but we weren’t yet sure exactly what shape it would take: all we knew is that we'd start building it around a great crowd-sourced cookbook. What we found, in a matter of weeks, was that a community of devoted home cooks swiftly and organically arose. People were hanging out, sharing ideas, contributing to the book, and shaping the content and tone of the site. They helped each other out with cooking questions, gently let newcomers in on the culture of the site, and chatted directly with us. A lot. And it was they -- you! -- who helped us figure out what the business would become.

We believe in communities that have a strong aesthetic and voice, but a welcoming demeanor. Communities without direction -- without a sense of common purpose -- flail and fail. It's communities with a purpose, ones you might call “constructive communities," that thrive (like Kickstarter). Our purpose, it's become clear, is to connect people who love food -- because eating well matters to us. As the site builds community, the community builds the site.

Two years in, here's what the FOOD52 community has done together: we've just finished our second book, and are now working on an iPad app. We’ve created a trove of community-vetted recipes, and launched a Hotline so people in a cooking dilemma can get fast answers from experienced home cooks. One night recently, we helped a cook who ran into trouble with seized chocolate and coached her through a failing semifreddo. A community-powered iPhone app for the Hotline is also in the works.

   On a Farm in Indiana On a Farm in Indiana

We've also plucked some of our leading columnists from our own ranks, including Tom Hirschfeld, who writes about growing his own food on his farm in Indiana, and an upcoming columnist (spoiler alert!) who's going to write about urban gardening.

FOOD52ers have been getting together offline since we launched. There are more than 40 member-hosted potluck parties happening around the country (and even one being held as far away as Nigeria) to celebrate the launch of our first cookbook later this month. On an overcast day this August, one of our members, Maria Raynal, gathered more than a dozen FOOD52ers to help out Detroit Dirt with this composting project.

Detroit Dirt

That sort of grassroots entrepreneurship makes Merrill and me proud. Maybe it’s our Yankee side, but we aren’t ones for idle chit-chat. We like to make, build, create. We joke that we are the hosts, curators, and occasional disciplinarians of FOOD52 – like French guardians, we live on the property we take care of. We don’t just build the site, we participate in every aspect as community members. It’s the first site we visit when we wake up, and the last one we sign off of before bed.

Six months ago, we decided it was time to redesign our site to better take advantage of what our community had become – and to more clearly define the business we were building. We had been studying how our community used the site, where people congregated, who connected with whom. While many community sites are static and organized by topic, the beauty of FOOD52, it seemed to us, was that people were immediately able look around to see what’s new, who's there and which conversational group or activity to join.

Brooklyn Street

Photo by TrespassersWill, Flickr

We wanted to accentuate that sense of transparency and boundless opportunity. The metaphor we had in mind was a thriving city street – with interesting people buzzing about, appealing storefronts and small visual enticements at every turn. In one visit, you should be able to find the content you want, see what recipes have gotten people talking, who to trust and follow, what other cooks are up to, and where there are clusters of activity. You should come to FOOD52 (or any social site, really) and feel immersed in a lively and productive metropolis. Discovery and inspiration should be the norm.

You should also know the guardians – Merrill, me, and our team – are there with you. We should be looking after the site, and using it alongside you, too.

So that's what we set out to build. There is a period when city crews are tearing up the street, when the plumbing doesn't work, and the jackhammers are annoying -- that would be now. Sorry! Despite it all, FOOD52 is now a vibrant and ever-changing street for you to explore, with the community’s curated content resting atop it all. We found ways for the many great cooks hidden inside the old site to appear out in the open. We let people’s own engagement with the content dictate what appears on the storefronts – the home page and other main pages. We built structures that would handsomely frame our beautiful, curated photography and the work of our smart columnists and editors. We're celebrating the community and all who take part in it. And Merrill and I and our small team are there, too, asking our own Hotline questions, planning contest themes, curating news, putting together special offers for you in the Shop, and talking with you.

We have re-imagined what a food community should look like. Despite the commotion and confusion that inevitably accompanies a bold new project, we believe – just as we believed when we launched FOOD52 – that what we're doing is worth breaking ground for.

Jump to Comments (50)

Comments (50)

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Mf_tw2_reasonably_small

about 3 years ago feucht22

The new design and the sustained mission are great--good job Food52. That said, I still don't find myself contributing content because I don't cook with recipes (besides baking). I wish there was a better forum for sharing and contributing 'rough guidelines'. (Maybe there is; could you point me in the right direction?)

Assuming there isn't, it could be a reason there are so many "lurkers" (of which I am certainly one!). Just an idea. I look forward to checking Food52 throughout the holidays to see what other folks are up to in the kitchen!

Thanks for all your hard work on Food52.

Mf_tw2_reasonably_small

about 3 years ago feucht22

The new design and the sustained mission are great--good job Food52. That said, I still don't find myself contributing content because I don't cook with recipes (besides baking). I wish there was a better forum for sharing and contributing 'rough guidelines'. (Maybe there is; could you point me in the right direction?)

Assuming there isn't, it could be a reason there are so many "lurkers" (of which I am certainly one!). Just an idea. I look forward to checking Food52 throughout the holidays to see what other folks are up to in the kitchen!

Thanks for all your hard work on Food52.

Mf_tw2_reasonably_small

about 3 years ago feucht22

The new design and the sustained mission are great--good job Food52. That said, I still don't find myself contributing content because I don't cook with recipes (besides baking). I wish there was a better forum for sharing and contributing 'rough guidelines'. (Maybe there is; could you point me in the right direction?)

Assuming there isn't, it could be a reason there are so many "lurkers" (of which I am certainly one!). Just an idea. I look forward to checking Food52 throughout the holidays to see what other folks are up to in the kitchen!

Thanks for all your hard work on Food52.

Sandwich1

about 3 years ago rroseperry

I generally lurk, but wanted to come out from behnd the screen (keyboard?) to say this new design is perfect for tablets and just gorgeous. I've gotten so many good ideas and recipes here.

Thank you!

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

about 3 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Thank YOU! We're so glad to hear you like the new site! And it's always fun to meet a new "lurker"! We always wonder who you are. :)

Noelle2

about 3 years ago enbe

I love this because I envision food52 in a very similar way. I may not be the one who contributes the most recipes, but food52 is my very first stop for dinner ideas and party meals and for information on anything food. I comment on everything I make because I know that the foundations of this site are feedback and discussion. I tell anyone who will listen that I love the site, not just for its recipes but because it's one of the most fantastic environments to grow as a cook. It's warm, and friendly, and everything you want in a community of like-passioned people. Further, I'm not sure how it happens but food52's vetting really works. I know I'm going to get a good meal out of most of the things I try, moreso even than most of my cookbooks! So thanks to A&M and everyone else and congratulations!!!

Dscn2212

about 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Amanda, the way in which you describe the early growth of food52 is exactly how I came to experience it - as a community of good, wise, generous friends with whom to share knowledge, experiences, successes and failures, late nights, early mornings . . . and I didn't even have to clean house or make sure the dishes were done for them! At first I sort of hung back and watched the activity through on the street through the kitchen curtains, and after a few months finally jumped in and started strolling along with everyone else. It is a warm and generous place you created. The move to the new house has been a bit difficult, but that's nothing you don't know. The old place seemed a bit more comfortable, which the new one seems to have a few more rules than some of us may have been used to. Maybe we need to give each other time to get accustomed to the new place. The speed has certainly improved, and it's a bit easier to find some things, and how hard everyone must be working is unimaginable. Thank you all for that. And warm congratulations on the birth of your second book. I can't wait till the party!

Dscn2212

about 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

It seems I'm counting your books before they hatch - I meant congratulations on the birth of your "first" book! And an edit function would be so very wonderful. I tend to type on the fly without re-reading before I post. I guess that means I should hit pause, re-read, then post. Okay, I've got it.

Cakes

about 3 years ago Bevi

This has been a wonderful resource and a new lease on my cooking life. I have come to deeply admire the cooks on this site - and this is all due to Amanda's and Merrill's brilliant idea to bring community cooks together. It's great to see such an influx of new cooks in the recent weeks. Thanks so much for this opportunity to interact with people who are encouraging, deeply creative, and so kind to each other.

Sausage2

about 3 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Hi! I don't know where else to comment this, so I'll just say here: happy book release day!!!!! Congratulations to everyone one involved! (That's everyone!) What an exciting day!

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about 3 years ago drbabs

Barbara is a trusted source on General Cooking.

You took the words out of my mouth, fiveandspice! I was just looking for a place to post--happy book day! I hope y'all (and we all) have a blast with the launch parties.

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about 3 years ago gingerroot

Hear, Hear! Congratulations to all, oh happy book day!

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about 3 years ago Jane Fordyce

Hi, Congratulations! I do like your elegant new site especially the new logo and the food photography... and I look forward to rediscovering all the different pieces of the old site that I used to check in on.

I love wandering around the site (usually prompted by a weekly message from A&M) and always become re-inspired by an enthusiastic description of what someone just made, mother always made or someone who hints that they may have just consumed a whole batch of something. It is such a pleasure to be able to access this treasure trove of diverse, personal and obviously well-loved recipes. Here's to more!

p.s. and although the last thing you probably want to hear about is yet another funny little quirky thing wrong with the new site, this one is really really minor....noticed the Contest Winners category has doubles, triples and even quadruples of many recipes... makes the browsing process a little long.

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about 3 years ago Ms. T

So true. Congrats on creating a truly warm, welcoming and constructive online community! All too often, people hide behind a sense of anonymity and become a vicious pack of wolves in online comments sections. Food52 is more like a dinner party where everyone is a friend of a friend, and you know you have something in common before you even say hello. Thanks for keeping the competition "friendly" and fun.

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about 3 years ago EatArt

oops... there it is :)

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

about 3 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Yes, that's all part of our tricky new system -- now you see a comment, now you don't! But seriously, we're working on it. Thank you so much for your lovely comment, and generous thoughts!

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about 3 years ago EatArt

just tried to post a comment and it disappeared....

Screen_shot_2011-06-30_at_11.52.36_am

about 3 years ago EatArt

Food52 touched me about a year ago, when I first tripped over it because it touched all the right buttons for me -- really wonderful creative home cooking recipes, gorgeous photographs, all wrapped up in a warm blanket of community that seemed so full of love, you could feel its arms embrace you. I became an instant fan. While my time is crunched, and I don't participate as much as I would like, I'm so glad to have F52 in my go-to repertoire whenever I need a hit of food crush.

As I am working hard to get my own site and community built, I really appreciate how you guys have braved the wilds and cleared a path.... as well as how you've handled your challenges with the new site with grace and clear heads. Of course it will all settle down and your shiny new site will soon take on a soft happy glow and hum along sweetly.

Thanks Amanda and Merrill for creating such a wonderful place where we all can come home for dinner (and lunch, and breakfast, and snacks, and....).

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about 3 years ago livia

As a quiet reader for these two years all the way from Brazil, I have to come forward at least this once and let you know that the improvement is much celebrated. Thanks for inspiring my cooking for these past years and hopefully to many more projects to come! You guys rock! Cheers!

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about 3 years ago MLT13

Hi A&M,

Love the new site re-do! We can't wait to have you back on campus at Northeastern in December. The buzz (and the banner) has already started about your visit. See you soon! Maureen

Newliztoqueicon-2

about 3 years ago Lizthechef

In keeping with facelift/new look, I'm giving up my 20 year old bob for short hair, hopefully in time for the Bay Area get-together ;)

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

about 3 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Can't wait to see it!

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about 3 years ago Auntie M & M

All I can say is- Amanda and Merrill, since I found you about 18 months ago, my food life has improved. Love everything you do and love almost every recipe that I have tried. Great format. Sorry that I am not a recipe contributor. Thanks to all that are more creative than I.

Mrs._larkin_370

about 3 years ago mrslarkin

Mrs. Larkin is a trusted source on Baking.

howdy neighbors! A&M, is that a cannele you are munching on in the top photo? Where was this?

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

about 3 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Indeed it was! We were at Burdick on 20th Street, between 5th avenue and Broadway -- dangerously close to our office.

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

about 3 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Hello everyone!

Thank you for all of your thoughtful and kind comments! Just letting you know we're finally sending out our "Welcome to the New FOOD52" email today. If you receive it, we didn't want you to feel confused. You've already seen the site but many others on our list probably have not. We held off sending this email until we had some technical issues shored up, and the re-worked home page up.

I'm off to make pizza dough (blog post "research") -- have a great Sunday!

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about 3 years ago TiggyBee

I've been wowed by this great site and sense of community since my own day one, a bit over a year ago. Logged in today to get this huge surprise of the new design. I love it!! I've said this before, but I'm saying it again, I love FOOD52 and all it's inhabitants. There's real kindness that lives here and I'm grateful to be a part of it.